The article “Why Special Educators Really Leave the Classroom” posted by Edweek (2018) sparked my interest as a special educator and inspired me to add more to the story. I think it is meaningful to share what might be helpful for administration to know that will help special education teachers be successful at an important job.
To start, let’s clarify that special education teachers are one of a kind. The job of a special education teacher is one that can be both rewarding and incredibly challenging at the same time. The ins and outs of special education can, over the years, bring an educator to want and need a change. Special education teachers tend to come into the field with lots of hopes and dreams, but over time tend to lose that enthusiasm, want to change placements, change classrooms, or change professions altogether. In the field of special education, there are so many different things that can get in the way of actually feeling like a teacher working with students. Therefore, it is imperative that administrators try to help.
Once special education teachers are hired and put in place, they tend to think their experience is going to be the same as all the other teachers. Then reality hits: Special education teachers soon find out that they live in a world all their own. They are typically left out of the general education world, professional development planning, etc.
So, what are some of the major problems special education teachers face?
- Lack of knowledge and understanding from administration.
- Lack of support from administrators, both general and special education.
- Scrambling for materials, curriculum, and growth in the field.
- Lack of appreciation for the day-to-day efforts of the special education teacher.
- No planning time.
- Different expectations than other teachers in their buildings.
In response to these concerns, here are some ways administrators can help:
- Knowledge: It would be beneficial for administrators to have more than just a basic knowledge of special education. Take classes, go to conferences, seek online training, and reach out to special education administration and teachers to learn some of the ins and outs of what it takes to be a special educator. If administrators take the time to learn, they might find that they can relate to their special education teachers better, and teachers might get better help and support.
- Administrative support: Special education teachers sometimes need extensive support to do their daily job. Some suggestions include doing walk-throughs in the special education classroom; staying, visiting, and interacting with the students; taking notes when special educators suggest things they need and then following through and finding ways to get them those things; and finding ways to ensure that they feel like part of the school and integrating them with all the other teachers. Special education teachers are going to need a lot of “good job” deposits for all the withdrawals that get taken away throughout their day.
- Professional development: Make sure that when you are planning for professional development, you take into consideration what special education teachers need. Don’t force these teachers to sit in meetings that don’t have anything to do with their classrooms. Take the time to find out what professional development they need and then fulfill those needs so that special education teachers can learn and grow just as general education teachers do.
- Appreciation: Help the entire staff gain an appreciation for what special education teachers do. Don’t make them stand out, but help them to fit in and be a part of the school community. Help the staff grow together.
- Planning time: Ensure that special education teachers get their planning time. Just because it is in their schedule doesn’t mean they get it. Most special education teachers spend their planning time in meetings, working with paraeducators, training other staff, communicating with parents, completing paperwork, or having students in their classroom. Find ways to ensure that the special education teachers actually get time to plan instruction, plan activities, gather curriculum, and build IEPs.
- Consistent expectations: Make sure your expectations of special education teachers and general education teachers don’t have substantial differences. Although the two types of teachers have different job descriptions and work with different students, special education teachers shouldn’t be expected to do the work on their own. They should have access to the specific help and resources they need to do their job.
As a school administrator, you accepted the responsibility to build a community, support teachers, and support students. Great special education teachers can be difficult to find, so make sure you keep them once you’ve got them.
Samuels, C. A. (2018, January 24). Why special educators really leave the classroom. Retrieved from Education Week website: https://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2018/01/24/why-special-educators-really-leave-the-classroom.html